U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Dot gov

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.


Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.


Main content area

Conservation management practices reduce non-point source pollution from grazed pastures

Amanda J. Ashworth, Philip A. Moore, Dan H. Pote, Phillip R. Owens, Jerry W. Martin, Kelsey R. Anderson
Heliyon 2021 v.7 no.2 pp. e06238
Fragiudults, aeration, agricultural conservation practice, agricultural runoff, agricultural watersheds, carbon, grazing, manure spreading, nitrate nitrogen, nonpoint source pollution, pastures, pollution load, poultry manure, rainfed farming, reactive phosphorus, silt loam soils, silty soils, soil amendments, soil surface layers, soluble phosphorus, subsurface application, total nitrogen, total phosphorus, Arkansas
Producers in Northwest Arkansas and globally need alternative management practices to ensure long-term sustainable and economical use of poultry litter, which is an abundant source of valuable carbon (C), nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P). Project objectives were to measure the efficacy of conservation management practices (i.e., pasture aeration and subsurface litter incorporation) to reduce nutrient runoff compared to poultry litter surface applications from small watersheds under rainfed and grazed conditions. Watersheds (0.23 ha each) were assigned a treatment [pasture aeration, subsurface litter incorporation, or surface application of litter (positive control)] on a Leadvale (fine-silty, siliceous, thermic Typic Fragiudult) silt loam. Poultry litter was applied annually to each watershed from 2007-2012. Over the 4-yr study period, runoff loads of NO₃–N, total nitrogen (TN), soluble reactive phosphorus (SRP), and total phosphorus (TP) varied per conservation practice (P ≤ 0.05). Specifically, average annual loads of NO₃–N, TN, SRP, and TP loads were reduced 49, 42, 28, and 35% following pasture aeration and by 78, 72, 55, and 59% from subsurface applying poultry litter, relative to surface applications, respectively. Greatest annual N loads and runoff corresponded with surface poultry litter applications, followed by pasture aeration, with subsurface incorporation of poultry litter resulting in lowest (P ≤ 0.05) TN and NO₃–N loads. Overall, subsurface incorporation of poultry litter and pasture aeration are two promising conservation practices for reducing non-point source pollution in watersheds with nutrient imbalances. Further work needs to be done on factors influencing the efficacy of these conservation practices under rainfed conditions, as well as the economic feasibility of these conservation agricultural practices.